The Gods and Goddesses of the Irish were/are a little different from others in Celtic Mythology from Britain and Europe, and it is important to differentiate and understand what we mean by Irish Gods, specifically.
The term ‘Celtic’ is just a scholarly descriptor, when used correctly, to talk about Indo-European tribes in Europe who were grouped together (by outside observers) based on ethnolinguistic similarities – so, mainly their language, art, and other cultural indicators.
Basically what that means is that ‘the Celts’ doesn’t describe a single cohesive group of people, and it’s certainly not interchangeable with ‘the Irish’. Or even, ‘people who lived on the island we now call Ireland’!
Irish Gods, therefore, are their own unique thing. And that’s what we’ll be talking about here. This is just an intro article, so I’ll have to be brief, but you can also find a Pronunciation Guide for the Irish Gods on my YouTube Channel >>> Click Here.
An Mórrígan – The Morrígan or Mórrígan, also known as Morrígu, or Mór-Ríoghain in Modern Irish. Her name can be translated as ‘Great Queen’, or ‘Phantom Queen’. This Irish Goddess is mainly associated with prophecy, battle and sovereignty. She can appear as a crow, who we call the Badbh (who is another of the Irish Gods, at the same time as being a form of the Great Queen). In Neo Pagan terms she is often reduced to a ‘war goddess’, and misunderstood as a ‘Goddess of Sex and Battle’. Her primary function though, in my experience, is as a bringer of change, and a Guardian of Ireland – both in this world and the Irish Otherworld.
Áine – An Irish Goddess of the seasons, wealth/prosperity, and sovereignty, Aíne’s name could mean any of the following – ‘brightness, glow, joy, radiance; splendour, glory, fame’. She has a strong association with Samhraidh (Grianstad an tSamhraidh – Midsummer) and the sun in general, and can be represented by a red mare (McKillop, 1998). Some folk talk of her in terms of love and fertility, and she is definitely in the running as one of Ireland’s primary ‘Fairy Queens’. The hill of Knockainey (Cnoc Áine in Irish) is named for her, and up to as recently as 1879, it was recorded that local people were conducting rites involving fire, the blessing of land, animals and crops, in her honour.
Brighid – As Brigit, Brigid, Brighid, or Bríg, this Irish Goddess has been with the Irish Gods from pre-historic Ireland as one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, right through to modern Christian tradition in the form of our primary Catholic Saint. Her name is generally translated as ‘exalted one’, and she is a daughter of the Dagda. As one of the Irish Gods, she is associated with the Earraigh, the Spring (and particularly the Pagan Festival of Imbolg or Imbolc), and with fertility, and through her fire she brings healing, poetry and smithcraft. As Saint Brigid she shares many of the goddess’s associations, with a specific continuity of her sacred flame.
An Dagda – One of the Tuatha Dé Danann, whose name means ‘the Good God’, the Dagda is the ‘Great Father’ (Ollathair), chieftain, and druid of the tribe (Koch, 2006). He controls life and death through his magical club/staff (an Lorg Mór), and can manage the weather, crops, the seasons, and time itself. In general, his associations are the earthly ones of fertility, agriculture, strength, as well as the Otherworldly ones of magic, druidry and wisdom. He is the husband of the Mórrígan, and the Dagda’s Tools his other tools include the cauldron which never runs empty, and a magic harp which can control human emotions and change the seasons.
Manannán Mac Lír – This deity now, is not specifically Irish, I’ll admit, and definitely crosses the boundaries with the Celtic Gods of other nations. He does however, appear often in Irish mythology, and so has definitely earned his place amongst the Irish Gods. Manannán or Manann, also known as Manannán Mac Lir (‘son of the sea’) is, as you may have guessed, a God associated with the sea… but he also has very strong connections to the Otherworld as a guardian and guide, and so with Adventures or Journeys (Eachtraí nó Immrama) there. He owns a boat named Scuabtuinne (‘wave sweeper’), a chariot that is drawn across the top of the waves as if on land by the horse Aonbharr (‘one mane’, or possibly, ‘water foam’). He also carries – and sometimes loans out – a sword named Fragarach (‘the answerer’), and a cloak of invisibility (an féth fíada).
As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about our Irish Goddess The Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.
8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.
I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]
Iníon Preacháin asked: “Of Badb, Macha, Anu/Anand, Nemain, Fea, and some list Danu as well… do you feel they are all aspects of the Morrigna?”
Okay, so, ‘the Morrigna’ represents the plural, so yes, they are all aspects of Na Morrigna, as in the Great Queens – that’s what Morrigna written like that means. I always make a distinction between na Morrigna, as in the plural, or the Mórrígan, ‘an Morrighan,’ the Great Queen, so that would be my feeling on it.
Like I said — in a previous blog post, see it here — aspects is not a term that I would use specifically. I would see them as sisters, and some more closely related than others. In my experience.
Macha is, I feel, is the closest to her, and I have an interest and kind of perspective, I suppose, in Mórrígan and Medb, that’s — Queen Medb of Connacht —, and working with both of those very, very powerful figures at Rathcroghan for so many years. They very much work together in my experience and both of them feed into the sovereignty of Connacht, of the western province, in Ireland.
Macha is the sovereignty of, or represents the sovereignty of, the Ulster province in the north of Ireland, and Connacht and Ulster have a somewhat troubled relationship in the mythology. I mean, anybody who’s read the — Tain Bó Cúailnge —, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley,” will be aware, Ulster and Connacht have been enemies for a very long time. So there’s kind of a lot going on there, and of all of those sisters Macha, to me, has alwas been the most, kind of fully formed and distinct from the Morrígan.
Nemain, I think, is an ancestor, and I think that all of those deities that are there… and again, we will look at this in more detail over the course, but all of those deities, in a sense they may be aspects in the literal understanding of that word. BUT, they are all beings and deities in their own right as well. So them being aspects of the Great Queen, I think that kind of feeds together and weaves together, but I think they’re working on different levels, if that makes sense.
So you’ve got this kind of top tier of being able to interact with all of those beings individually. You go down a little bit deeper into the root system and they start to blend a little bit closer together and you don’t get those kind of distinctive, individual personalities. You go down deeper and they’re all kind of part of that same root, and then you go deeper again and you’re still in the ‘Irish zone’ at that level… but then the level below that would be the universal archetypal level, the level of the collective unconscious common to all humanity, that kind of ‘dark goddess’ level.
All of the names which we connect to the Mórrígan, under the banner of ‘Great Queen’, are connected at a deep level so, but we can (and do) also interact with them individually in the day to day. I definitely wouldn’t be a fan of – or allowed to, I’d get my arse kicked – lump them all together or just swap out one for another.
Yeah, don’t try that one at home kids.